Manga, the great success of European authors

Manga, the great success of European authors


In recent years we hear more and more often about the manga boom phenomenon, especially in the post-pandemic era. The sales numbers of the Japanese comic have actually exploded in the last three years, just think of the fact that in 2019 the manga represented 30% of the comics sold, while in 2021 they rose up to 59%: in practice sales doubled, which shocked the Italian market and brought to the fore publishing houses such as Star Comics and J-Pop which have always focused most of their efforts on comics from the land of the Rising Sun. This new golden age of manga is also witnessed by the spaces in the largest Italian bookstore chains, such as Feltrinelli and Mondadori, which now dedicate entire sections to them.

However, it would be wrong to think that manga has become popular in the our country so suddenly, without a previous history. In fact, it has always been very popular in Italy since the 90s, when the first edition of Dragon Ball was released, which introduced the world of Japanese comics to millions of readers. With the help of the many anime that have passed on television, manga became more and more popular, so much so that for many years it has no longer been considered a niche; it is now read by a very wide audience and is conquering more and more the new generations of comic readers. What happened with the pandemic was probably a sudden acceleration of this process, born from the desire for entertainment and distraction of those who were forced to stay at home. So many have discovered anime on various streaming services and consequently manga.

In the first major post-pandemic edition of Lucca Comics & Games, which this year returned to a much-desired normality, this love for manga has seen it all. Just think of the Japanese guests present, including Atsushi Okubo, author of Soul Eater and Fire Force for Panini, Norihiro Yagi, author (repetition) of Claymore and Ariadne in the Blue Sky for Star Comics, and Nagabe, author of Girl from the other side for J-Pop. A massive presence, therefore, which is hardly possible to find in other fairs in Europe (except perhaps the French Angoulême) and also in America, also because of the distance and the difficulty of bringing Japanese authors so far.

Nel Lucca comics panorama, which represents a bit of the summa of the Italian publishing world, we have also seen how much the manga is no longer a Japanese product only, but how the works created with the stylistic features of oriental comics by Italian authors are more and more or other European countries. In short, the manga has not only conquered the public, but also many authors.

From comic to manga

Once upon a time, those who wanted to become a comic author felt bound by some territorial limits: not you could do comics if you weren't born in America, you couldn't do manga if you weren't born in Japan and so on. Over time, however, these limits have fortunately lapsed, leading many authors to devote themselves to the style that they feel most similar, with also interesting fusions of different styles. On the other hand, after several generations of fans found themselves reading and studying various works such as comics, manga or banda dessinée, gradually certain narrative and stylistic structures, initially considered exotic, have been absorbed and made their own. This has happened in the past with American comics, where it is now normal to find authors of all nationalities, also working on iconic characters (just think of Sara Pichelli and her work as an artist with Ultimate Spider-Man and the character of Miles Morales), and so it is happening for manga.

Tony Valente / J-Pop In recent years we have not only seen the increase of comics drawn by European authors with a style closer to the Japanese one, but some of these have achieved what until recently seemed impossible: to be published in Japan. The pioneer in this case was Tony Valente with Radiant, a European manga with the typical style of the shonen, that is the manga for boys, whose most famous representatives are Dragon Ball and One Piece. Tony, present as a guest of J-Pop (who publishes his manga in Italy) also in this edition of Lucca Comics, is an author born in the south of France and has published several works in his country, until in 2013 he released the first issue of Radiant.

This work is set in a fantasy world where creatures called Nemesis start falling from the sky. Nobody knows where they come from or what they are, but everyone fears them because they can kill a person just by touching them. The few survivors of the touch, however, learn to use the magical energy of monsters by becoming sorcerers. The protagonist of the story is Seth, a young sorcerer who wants to travel the world in search of Radiant, the legendary place from which the Nemesis are said to come, and destroy it.

Radiant was released for the first time in Japan in 2015 and has become so popular that it has been transposed into an anime, currently consisting of two seasons, a privilege reserved only for the most successful manga. Although the artistic and narrative style respects the canons of Japanese manga, some themes are much more personal and atypical for Japanese comics, such as the problem of racism or the unequal treatment between those who live in the suburbs of a city in full poverty and the elite of those who instead command and manage the population. Themes most felt in the French territory where the author was born.

Tony Valente, however, was not the only one, over the years, to have been published in the manga's country of origin: Åsa Ekström is a cartoonist Swedish who has published several works directly in Japan (the country where he lives) including Goodbye, September with which he has also won several awards, always on Japanese soil. Kenny Ruiz is instead a Spanish author who began collaborating with Tezuka Production creating the manga Team Phoenix, a reinterpretation of the classic characters of the "god of manga" Osamu Tezuka re-proposed in an alternative universe. Here Princess Sapphire, Kimba the White Lion and Sharaku will have to face the robotic alliance that controls 90% of the universe. The manga was published during this Lucca Comics by Goen, who had the author as a guest.

Kenny Ruiz Among the European authors published in Japan there is also an Italian: Giuseppe Durato, aka Peppe, who managed to publish, between 2019 and 2020, his first manga Mingo - Don't think that all Italians are popular with girls! published in Italy by Dynit. Composed of four volumes, this work is partly autobiographical and plays a lot on the stereotypes of Italians in Japan.

Also in Lucca we then met two French authors: Arnaud Dollen and Jérôme Alquié, who have just published in Italy for Star Comics The Knights of the Zodiac - Saint Seiya: Time Odyssey, an official spin-off of the legendary saga, supervised by Masami Kurumada himself. Meanwhile, on the flip side, the best-known Italian cartoonist of the moment, Zerocalcare, has instead dedicated a special cover for the re-edition of the manga by Star Comics.

The Knights of the Zodiac: from Japan to France

If it is already a very important goal for a European author to be published in Japan, it is even more so when you do it by putting your hand to an important work such as The Knights of the Zodiac, or in the original Saint Seiya. We therefore had the opportunity to ask some questions to the two authors, Arnaud Dollen, screenwriter, and Jérôme Alquié, designer, about the genesis of their work.

Alquié tells us how it all started from another important collaboration with Kana, the French publishing house he works with. The illustrator had in fact edited the drawings of Captain Harlock: Memories of Arcadia, a work born from the collaboration between Akita Shoten, a Japanese publishing house, and Kana. Already on that occasion he had been able to work with a living legend like Leiji Matsumoto, who had handled the script of the comic, and, given the success, Kana tried again, this time with another license. In this case, the French publishing house proposed Saint Seiya to the author, whose rights always belong to Akita Shoten and of which he was a huge fan from an early age. Alquié, however, did not feel like tackling the project alone and also involved Arnaud Dollen, another great fan of the series, to write the lyrics.

Kana / Star Comics In a short time they proposed a subject to Akita Shoten and Masami Kurumada himself, the historical author of The Knights of the Zodiac, and both accepted immediately. The subject of The Knights of the Zodiac: Time Odyssey is a spin-off that does not want to be set either before or after the series, but in the shadows of the events narrated in the original story. In total it will consist of five volumes and each of these will be dedicated to one of the protagonists, with the first, already released in Lucca, all about Ikki di Phoenix.

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